Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Freehold Borough pays $65,000 to man who gave officers "the finger"

On July 15, 2009, Melvin Love, of Freehold, New Jersey, accepted $65,000 as full settlement of his excessive force claim against the Borough of Freehold (Monmouth County) and several members of its police department.

Love's civil lawsuit, filed in February 2008, arose out his encounter with Freehold Borough Police Officers Christopher Colanear and Christopher Otlowski on June 6, 2007.

Love alleges that while he was talking to two friends outside his mother's home, Colanear, Otlowski and other unnamed officers drove by and "taunted" him. In response to the officers, Love "gestured to them with his middle finger." This gesture, according to the suit, angered the officers who allegedly threw Love "through a fence and maced him" and then arrested him for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and drug possession.

The case is captioned Love v. Freehold Borough et al, Case No. 3:08-cv-00749-FLW-DEA . Love's lawyer was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Love and the Borough from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Love's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $65,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Freehold and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Love and his lawyer $65,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Freehold's decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and Freehold wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.